Canadians pay wide range of prices for healthy foods: report

Depending on where Canadians live, they may pay more than double to almost six times more for healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains, according to a report released on Monday.

Depending on where Canadians live, they may pay more than double to almost six times more for healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables or whole grains, according to a report released on Monday.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation's annual Report on Canadians' Health looked at 66 communities across Canada and the prices for healthy food.

For example:

  • Six apples ranged from 90 cents in Peterborough, Ont., to $7.64 in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
  • One kilogram of lean ground beef was $13.21 in Ottawa, but only $4.14 in Barrie, Ont.
  • A package of whole wheat pasta ranged from $2 in Barrie, Ont., to $7.90 in Regina, and a staggering $11.37 in Dawson, Yukon.

In contrast, there was little variation in the cost of snack foods such as cookies, potato chips and pop that should be consumed in moderation, the report's authors said.

Healthier foods were more expensive. For instance, margarine with trans fats cost on average $2.79 compared with $3.29 for trans-fat-free margarine, and brown rice was $5.09 compared with white rice at $4.71.

A survey accompanying the report suggested that 47 per cent of Canadians reported occasionally going without fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, whole grain products, meat or fish because of high cost.

"Healthy eating is a key factor in preventing heart disease," said Dr. Beth Abramson, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokeswoman and cardiologist.

The report should serve as a wakeup call, she said.

"Healthy eating is in danger of being out of reach for many Canadians, a problem which may only get worse given the current downturn in the economy."

Apples, whole wheat pasta in baskets

Transport costs don't explain all of the disparity, said Stephen Samis, director of health policy for the foundation.

"We couldn't figure out why apples, six apples, were $5 in Calgary and $1.71 in Edmonton," Samis said. "So we really think that we need to look at this further. We have to find out what's going on?"

The consequence is that cheaper, less healthy food becomes more attractive, said Dr. Patty Williams, the Canada Research Chair in food security and policy change in the department of applied human nutrition at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

"It puts healthy food out of reach for many people," Williams told CBC News in Halifax. "What it means is, it's going to put people's health at risk."

Some shoppers forego healthier items because of the cost. ((Seth Perlman/Associated Press))

The group is calling on governments to level the playing field, saying healthy diets are key to preventing heart disease.

At a news conference in Toronto on Monday, the Heart and Stroke Foundation repeated its earlier calls to drop the GST on some healthier foods, provide income supports and regulate the end of trans fats.

For the study, volunteers were asked to purchase the same products.

The volunteer shoppers were instructed to buy from a national or regional grocery chain, not a discount grocery store. The shopping was conducted in 66 communities between Oct. 15 and Oct. 25, 2008.

Items in each person's basket included six apples, a bag of potatoes, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, one per cent milk, cheddar cheese, lean ground beef and peanut butter.


 City Cost
South Vancouver$174.09
Grand Prairie$212.58 
St. John's$299.00
Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation  

There were also differences within cities. The grocery bill in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood, a lower-income area, was higher than in the suburb of Scarborough. And low-fat milk cost 10 cents more in the Montreal suburb of Verdun than downtown, but pop was cheaper in the lower income area, according to the report.

The disparity was worst on some remote First Nations and Inuit communities. In fact, prices from Bearskin Lake reserve in Northern Ontario were not included in the national analysis because many of the items were either extremely expensive or simply unavailable.

Six oranges cost $10.99, a 2.7-kilogram bag of carrots cost $10.88 and four litres of milk cost $15.70. Many items on the shopping list — chicken legs, frozen fish, canned corn and peas, potatoes, brown rice and frozen mixed vegetables — could not be purchased on the reserve.

Yet the bill came to $216.15, higher than the cost of buying all of the items in Jonquière, Que., ($173.72), Sydney, N.S., ($179.59) and Toronto ($185.44).